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Remembering John Seigenthaler, with author John Pritchard

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

From left, Ricky Skaggs, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Seigenthaler, and John Pritchard

John Pritchard, author of three novels in the “Junior Ray” series, sent this remembrance of journalist and writer John Seigenthaler, who died in July 2014. (Pictured, Ricky Skaggs, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Seigenthaler, John Pritchard.)

New South’s Randall Williams said it well about John Seigenthaler. Randall put it superbly, simply, and originally: “He was a good man who gave white Southerners a good name during our dark period of massive resistance, obstruction, and violence against civil rights.” As any Southerner with a lick of sense and an ounce of perspective would agree, that is a mammoth and most difficult achievement. Thus from a national as well as a regional perspective, Randall’s encapsulation gives high honor to a great person an awful lot of people regard as one of history’s finest.

John Seigenthaler was perhaps the most central and admirable personality that defined the Nashville I lived in during the 1970s. He was the apotheosis of integrity and of all that was serious and good. Anybody who knew him, even if they were his political opposites, held him in lofty esteem for the serious, smart, and incredibly intelligent human being he was. Indeed, John’s personal and professional record was well known.

He and I were by no means close friends, but we each had close friends who were close friends of us both. To John I was merely a familiar face and a good acquaintance, while he, in the geist and gestalt of that time and place, was a major figure in Nashville’s overall environment, and I was bumbling about in the thick of it there in my thirties and early forties. I lived in Nashville from the summer of 1970 until February of 1981. Like Memphis, Nashville was, in a social sense, a very small community. Everyone knew or knew about everyone else in all the odd and colorful corners of the city’s make-up — its politics, Music Row, Nashville’s huge academic community, downtown’s exceedingly high finance, dinner at Sperry’s Restaurant and late-night parties on Belle Meade Boulevard — it didn’t matter, anyone could be everywhere . . . plus, everyone was connected or outright related, either on purpose or accidentally. I loved it all, and for a long time, life there then was electric.

I taught school. I waited tables. I lucked up and landed a momentary part as an on-camera-double for James Hampton, in a Burt Reynolds film, W.W. and The Dixie Dance Kings, and I failed an audition at Opryland. They asked me if I could sing and dance, and I said, “No, but I will.” Yet most of all I learned how to write songs on Music Row, primarily in and around Ray Stevens’ Ahab Music, on Grand Avenue, and later over on 17th as a member of Tree International’s stable of close to ninety or a hundred other writers. Tree was the largest music publishing house in the world, and I think it is now Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, or some such, and, I am certain, has very little recollection of my existence. In any case I learned more on Music Row about a writer’s craft in general, by writing lyrics for pop and country songs, than at any other time or in any other place. All the principles involved in putting together a country song are exactly the same principles one applies in writing a short story or a novel. In any case, back then I was struggling to make a living.

Somehow John Seigenthaler was aware of my efforts, and one day in the summer of 1972 when I was waiting tables down on Elliston Place at the Ritz Cafe, John, who was eating lunch there with several others, called me aside and offered me a part-time job as a copy editor at the Tennessean. I had recently written and sold two feature pieces to the Tennessean, but I don’t think that had anything to do with John’s momentary life-saving offer, which I gratefully accepted.

I lasted less than a month on the rim, but produced what I have always thought was a dynamite headline — Smyrna Mayor Steers State Auto Group. However, because I was not adept in the math of making heads fit their space, my masterpiece broke and did not run. Nevertheless, even today I consider myself quite the clever headline-ist.

A few years later I had two full-time jobs — one as an English instructor and another as a full-time Metropolitan Deputy Sheriff for Nashville and Davidson County. As an English instructor I was employed by the Dominicans who adored John, and as a deputy I worked for John’s boyhood friend, fellow Democrat and Irish Catholic, Nashville’s High Sheriff, “Fate” Thomas. I didn’t get hired by either of those two entities because of John; I mention him only to illustrate my claim that everything there was in fact linked in what might accurately seem an infinite number of hooks and eyes. Anyhow, there I was, flanked by two enormous archetypes: Working for Mother Superior one one hand and on the other . . . for Father “Fate”!

The most direct reason I got the job as deputy was that Sheriff “Fate” Thomas decided he wanted to go to college to at least earn an associate’s degree, and he was my student. He often did not show up but would send one of his deputies to sit in class with a recorder and take notes. “Fate” performed remarkably well in Sophomore Lit. It was only later I discovered that everyone downtown in the Sheriff’s Office had had a role to play in writing “Fate’s” papers. But it was during that time that “Fate” told me he knew I needed extra employment and wondered if I would like to work for him as a deputy.

“Will I have a badge?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I couldn’t wait to report for duty. I got the badge and was, like all my fellow deputies, forbidden to arrest anyone, ever, under any circumstances no matter what. That sort of enforcement was the job of the Nashville Police. As Sheriff’s deputies we did a thousand other things, and most of us, me included, only “went armed” when one or more of our county inmates escaped, which could mean they simply walked away with the visitors and went home. Whenever “an escape” happened, we deputies would “surround the house.” Bear in mind most of us were teachers, coaches, recently unemployed young people, and one of our number was the drummer in the band on Hee Haw. But in those days there in Nashville, if you were a Catholic or a Democrat — or even knew any Catholics and Democrats — you could be a deputy. And I was fortunate beyond words and in every direction.

Suddenly it was 2005, twenty-four years after I was long gone from the days of those experiences I’ve described, and I found myself sitting with John in a studio at Nashville Public Television, taping a segment for his long-running program, A Word on Words. He was asking me about my first novel, Junior Ray, and saying wonderful things about the book, which was dubbed “hilariously tasteless” by Publishers Weekly and called, in the Mobile Press Register, “perhaps” the most profane literary work in recent history (both of those comments, I must add, were first-rate accolades). John, however, was the first of only a very few individuals who have taken notice of the non-profane parts of Junior Ray, specifically the poetry that makes up much of “The Notes of Leland Shaw.” I have to say, not as hyperbole but as fact, that if John Seigenthaler had been the only one who ever asked me anything at all about my book, that would have been sufficient for the rest of my life.

Then, in less than an Augenblick and thirty-two years after those Nashville “salad” days of “cakes and ale,” last December I was once again with John for A Word on Words at NPT — and I got my picture taken with Doris Kearns Goodwin and Ricky Skaggs . . . talk about covering the proverbial waterfront! This time John would be interviewing me about my third novel, Sailing to Alluvium. [A Word on Words audio available online.] I was almost 76, and John was ten years older. And on that crepuscular occasion and a long time before the cameras rolled, he and I spoke together about those far-away days and especially about “Fate.” We laughed a lot — particularly over a moment one night in Sperry’s. I saw John at a table and I went across the room to speak to him. He was smiling and said: “I was in Washington, and the FBI told me they think ‘Fate’ is involved in organized crime. Do you think ‘Fate’ is involved in organized crime?”

“Well, if he is,” I said, “it’s the end of organized crime.” The humor was automatic and explosive, and I shall remember the exchange even if my brain should shrink to the size of a Chiclet.

John Seigenthaler led a life that gives current meaning to everything Benjamin Jowett saw when he translated that last line in the “The Death of Socrates” from Greek to English: “Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, and justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known.”

John Pritchard is the author of Junior Ray, The Yazoo Blues, and Sailing to Alluvium. He resides in Memphis, Tennessee.

Texas Institute of Letters spotlights Rod Davis’s thriller South, America

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

South, America by Rod DavisThe prestigious Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) has good words to say in its April/May/June newsletter about NewSouth Books author Rod Davis. His new thriller South, America, which has been described as “a triumph of Southern noir,” is finding strong reviews in a number of publications from the Southern Literary Review to the Dallas Morning News to the Austin Chronicle. Check out all the reviews at the links, or find them at Rod Davis’s official website.

You can also catch Rod and author Tom Zigal as part of the Malvern Books program “Hard Side of the Big Easy: Crime Noir and Katrina,” available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube.

Here’s what the TIL newsletter says about Rod and South, America:

Rod Davis, our very prolific and relatively new member (as of 2013), has published a mystery thriller, South, America (please note the important comma). The hero is a former Dallas television weekend anchor living in New Orleans. Rod’s first book, a non-fiction effort entitled American Voudou, was published by Fran Vick when she headed the University of North Texas Press. You can see an ecstatic review of South, America, in the Dallas Morning News. You will remember Rod as editor of the Texas Observer, not to mention other things.”

Rod Davis’s South, America is available in paperback and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

New from Keith Donnelly: Three Dragons Doomed; Three Deuces Down in paperback

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Three Dragons Doomed by Keith DonnellyWhen foul play happens in East Tennessee, there’s only one detective to call.

Gumshoe Donald Youngblood is back in the fifth of author Keith Donnelly’s Donald Youngblood mysteries, Three Dragons Doomed. The new hardcover arrives just in time for the first paperback release of Donnelly’s first Youngblood novel, Three Deuces Down.

In Three Dragons Doomed, Youngblood must solve two cases: discovering the identity of a long-buried body while at the same time stopping a serial killer’s murderous spree. The latter case quickly becomes personal when the serial killer CJK wants a showdown with Youngblood himself.

In Three Deuces Down, Wall Street shark turned private detective Donald Youngblood gets his first real case when he’s hired to find a missing heiress. But the case is complicated by Youngblood’s unhappy girl friend, a beautiful blond police officer, a New York mob boss, a troublesome bodyguard, and a killer on the loose gunning for Youngblood and his friends.

Both books use the rich detail of Donnelly’s hometown of Johnson City, Tennessee and the surrounding East Tennessee area.

On Amazon, a reader raves that Donnelly’s Three Devils Dancing, the third book, “takes the reader on a thrill ride until its conclusion. Don’t miss this book!” Midwest Book Review calls Donnelly’s fourth book, Three Deadly Drops, “an exciting mystery that will prove hard to put down … much recommended.”

Three Dragons Doomed will be out in August, and Donnelly is already working on his sixth Donald Youngblood book. Three Deuces Down is now available in paperback and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Author Faye Gibbons attends First Lady of Alabama’s Scholastic book giveaway; Gibbons’s next YA novel due out shortly

Friday, July 4th, 2014 by Blair Johnson

Halley by Faye Gibbons

As a part of the #FirstLady500 Scholastic book giveaway, Dianne Bentley, Alabama’s First Lady, presented 100 Scholastic books to Holtville Elementary School on May 15, 2014. Mrs. Bentley chose to read one of her favorite children’s books, Night in the Barn, written by her favorite Alabama children’s author Faye Gibbons, to the students assembled.

In attendance at the event was Gibbons herself, making the First Lady’s visit to the school “particularly special,” according to Bentley’s blog.

Gibbons, author of several well acclaimed children’s and young adult books, has a new YA novel, Halley, due out in August from NewSouth Books. The eponymous heroine of the books is a gritty fourteen-year-old of Depression-era Georgia who must move in with her controlling, fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist grandfather after her father dies.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley and author Faye Gibbons (Halley)

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley and author Faye Gibbons at Holtville Elementary School (courtesy of the Office of the First Lady)

Praised as “a real treasure of a book” by National Book Award winner Han Nolan, Gibbons’s Halley is sure to find a place on the bookshelves of schools and homes alike, including on the bookshelf of the First Lady of Alabama.

Read WAKA Montgomery‘s coverage of the event.

Halley is available for pre-order from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Anniston, Alabama’s pitfalls, triumphs, told in books

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Baptized in PCBs by Ellen SpearsAnniston, Alabama has a storied, sometimes infamous history, including the burning of a Freedom Riders bus in the 1960s and more recently, legal battles over environmental pollution caused by chemical plants in the city. A new book by University of Alabama professor Ellen Spears, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town, tackles those latter environmental issues — not to denigrate Anniston, Spears suggests in her book, but so as to face Anniston’s past and help it move forward.

Both Spears’s book, and a recent Anniston Star column about books on Anniston, cite NewSouth’s Beyond the Burning Bus by J. Phillips Noble, about the Freedom Rider attacks. Spears’s book makes powerful linkages between Anniston’s civil rights history and the polychlorinated biphenyls environmental crisis. Spears points to Noble’s memoir in her account of how both crises were handled by local leaders; she also discusses the lingering effects of both events on Anniston, its reputation, and the lives of local people.

Another recent memoir on Anniston published by NewSouth is In Love with Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal, by Anniston Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers.

Read more about these titles from the Anniston Star.

Ellen Spears’s Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town is available now. Beyond the Burning Bus by J. Phillips Noble and In Love with Defeat by H. Brandt Ayers are both available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Tavis Smiley Show hosts Clifton Taulbert to discuss memoir, The Invitation

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 by Blair Johnson

The Invitation by Clifton Taulbert

Radio host and commentator Tavis Smiley interviewed Clifton Taulbert, bestselling author of titles including the award-winning Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, in early June in connection with Taulbert’s new memoir, The Invitation.

In a smart and engaging interview that you’ll wish lasted longer than its nine minutes, Smiley draws Taulbert into candid discussion about his transformative experience in South Carolina as chronicled in The Invitation. The book recounts Taulbert’s invitation to dinner at a former plantation house, about which he was immediately apprehensive, sharply evoking memories of his childhood as the son of a sharecropping family. Taulbert recounts how upon seeing the old South Carolina plantation surrounded by acres of cotton, he was immediately transported back to his days as a child in Mississippi. “[I felt] the weight of the segregated South on my shoulders as I sat in this car in the twenty-first century,” Taulbert told Smiley.

Taulbert discloses that it took him seven years to write The Invitation as he had to become “very, very honest, open, and vulnerable” with himself. “I had to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve taught at Harvard University, I’ve taught at the Air Force Academy . . . but I’ve also picked cotton, I’ve also slept on a cot that was so small you could fall off of it.’” As he describes to Smiley and also discusses in The Invitation, there is never a moment in which “the lessons of race and place” are not present. Taulbert explains that as a professional man he is proud of his accomplishments and intellectually understands that the world has changed, and for the better. But there’s a daily emotional adjustment to past history that’s required — even when (or maybe especially when) he is as graciously received as he was in South Carolina.

To listen to the entire interview, visit The Tavis Smiley Show’s website.

Clifton Taulbert’s The Invitation is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

NewSouth Books Remembers Virginia Pounds Brown

Friday, June 20th, 2014 by Blair Johnson

Virginia Pounds Brown

On May 26, 2014, NewSouth Books lost a longtime friend and beloved author, Virginia Pounds Brown. Although we will miss her in our books family, we will always remember her as a woman who was lively and engaged into her nineties and a very fine writer. Brown was a Birmingham native, a writer as well as a publisher and a bookstore owner, and a well known and respected authority on Native American, especially Creek Indian, history.

Brown’s obituary in The Birmingham News quotes her: “My writing career started when a German scientist working in Huntsville, walked into the bookstore looking for an ‘easy reading’ book about Alabama for relatives in Germany. We didn’t have such a book, but out of that request came Alabama Mounds to Missiles, an answer to his need. The success of the book turned a budding interest into the pursuit of discovering and writing about previously ignored or unknown facets of Alabama and southern history – mostly blacks, Indians, women.” Her desire to tell the untold stories of those who had been ignored realized itself in her many historical books.

NewSouth Books’s titles authored by Brown include The Gold Disc of Coosa (2004), a fictional account for middle-school aged children of the meeting between De Soto and the Alabama Indians, and two classics of Native American history:The World of Southern Indians: Tribes, Leaders, and Customs from Prehistoric Times to the Present (2011) and its companion title, the more recent Southern Indian Myths and Legends (Spring 2014). NewSouth also published Brown’s Mother & Me: An Intimate Memoir of Her Last Years (2003).

NewSouth Books will publish a fifth work by Brown, posthumously, which is co-authored by Linda McNair Cohen. Drawing By Stealth: John Trumbull and the Creek Indians will be released as an ebook in fall 2014. The book is a historical account of John Trumbull, an American artist during the period of the Revolutionary War and painter of two portraits of George Washington, and his encounter and subsequent drawings of the Creek Indians who fascinated him, just like they did Brown. NewSouth looks forward to publishing Drawing By Stealth in celebration of Virginia Pounds Brown’s lifetime of good work, passion for books, and our long friendship with her.

The works of Virginia Pounds Brown are available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Huffington Post spotlights poet David Rigsbee in Video Reading Series

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 by Blair Johnson

The Red Tower: New & Selected Poems by David RigsbeeIn a recent article in the Huffington Post, Anis Shivani cited poet David Rigsbee (The Red Tower) as one of eight emerging poets and fiction writers who represent “the cutting-edge of today’s literary world.”

As part of the “Video Reading Series,” Rigsbee and his fellow writers are featured in videos reading selections from their works and are also given the opportunity to present a behind-the-scenes look at their writing. Each writer presents a short elucidation on their own work, explaining the writing process as well as the roots and vision of their pieces.

Rigsbee, a North Carolina native and author of numerous full-length collections of poems including The Red Tower: New & Selected Poems, published by NewSouth Books in 2010, has received several awards that recognize his talent. These include the Sam Ragan Award for Distinguished Service to North Carolina Arts, the 2013 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, and the 2011 Oscar Arnold Young Award for The Red Tower, given by the Poetry Council of North Carolina.

In the Huffington Post’s “Video Reading Series,” Rigsbee reads “Russians,” a poem from his collection entitled School of the Americas (2012). Rigsbee explains his desire to write poems “that don’t spend your time making conundrums or feed you on impossible verbal desserts” in School of the Americas. He says that his new, simplified form of verse “improved on the old by becoming more superficial.” Rigsbee also refers to the impact the suicide of his brother has had on his work and the presence of human mortality and humility.

Anis Shivani also profiles poets Wendy Chin-Tanner, Melissa Broder, Tyler Mills, Jenna Le, Shadab Zeest Hashmi, and fiction writers Garry Craig Powell and Justin Sirois.

The Red Tower: New & Selected Poems by David Rigsbee is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Announcing South, America, Rod Davis’s latest New Orleans noir mystery

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

South, America by Rod DavisAuthor Rod Davis won a PEN Southwest Fiction Award for his debut novel Corina’s Way, set in New Orleans and starring the unforgettable voudou priestess Corina Youngblood. In Davis’s newest novel, South, America, he returns to the Big Easy and introduces a dynamic new leading man, Jack Prine.

South, America opens as Prine discovers a murder victim and finds himself drawn into a web of violence threatening the victim’s beautiful sister. They begin a dangerous, desperate flight through Alabama, the Delta, and back to New Orleans searching and evading button men, goons, and racial violence. Deadly ties extend to the Dixie Mafia, priceless stolen art, and debased Southern aristocracy. In a a final, startling showdown in the Arts District, no one’s survival is guaranteed.

Gerald Duff, author of Fire Ants, writes about South, America in the Southern Literary Review, that “What Rod Davis tackles masterfully in this faux hard-boiled mystery is the capturing in a simple plot of murder, investigation, solution, and deserved punishment of the essential truths of what it is to be born, nurtured, schooled, and acclimated to existence in the American South. [Jack Prine's] struggle to understand the nature of where he truly lives provides this powerfully fascinating novel with energy, soul, and a hope that he’ll return in another narrative to treat further what he calls ‘the hard shadowed streets of the Vieux Carre, the American landfall for the fallen.’”

Novelist and reviewer Si Dunn calls South, America a “gritty, well-written new mystery novel … an engrossing tale alive with Southern landscape, thugs, family secrets, voudou, art treasures, racial tensions, sex … and love.”

Both reviewers express their enthusiasm for the next Jack Prine novel, already in the planning.

Davis’s book tour for South, America is just beginning, with an appearance at the well-known Louie’s bar in Dallas, TX, on June 12 from 6-7:30. Also look for Rod Davis and author Tony Zigal at an event called “Hard Side of the Big Easy: Crime Noir and Katrina” at Malvern Books in Austin, TX, on June 27.

South, America is available in paperback and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Oklahoma raves over Clifton Taulbert’s The Invitation

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 by Savannah Szabo

The Invitation by Clifton TaulbertIn his new book The Invitation, best-selling author and inspirational speaker Clifton Taulbert describes the transformative experience he had in accepting a professional invitation to supper in Allendale, South Carolina. Accompanied by haunting childhood memories of segregation in the form of “Little Cliff,” Taulbert courageously faces the feelings that have come to the surface (and the table) in this captivating memoir that returns to the themes of his award-winning book Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored. A feast of reviews and interviews in Taulbert’s current hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been set in preparation for the book’s debut as well.

The Tulsa World’s James D. Watts described the memoir as “a journey that would make Taulbert confront his own past in profoundly unsettling ways.” Watts claims that in The Invitation, Taulbert “atomizes his ever-changing reactions to what is going on around him, examining every situation from the standpoint of the present, his memories and learned history.”

In an interview on the Writing Out Loud program with Teresa Miller of the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, Taulbert discusses the deep-rooted feelings that he had stowed away and which ultimately inspired him to write The Invitation. Miller asked if it had taken him this long to come to grips with those feelings and Taulbert responded, “It’s challenging to stop and say that the lingering lessons of race in place still follow you like a shadow … but Little Cliff, that inside voice that remembers the way it was, is still there.”

Taulbert was also featured on Public Radio Tulsa’s StudioTulsa program to discuss The Invitation. Host Rich Fisher said “[Taulbert] reminds us that while overt-racism is mostly a thing of the past, scars run deep. And his book, The Invitation, documents his own journey to remembrance but overcoming that past.” Fisher praised The Invitation as “a really important read for everyone … it’s getting at some of the contemporary issues that face people of [Taulbert]’s generation. It’s a world that has changed drastically, and yet there is always, as you write in your book, a Little Cliff reminding you of how things used to be.”

Ray Pearcey of the Oklahoma Eagle, a local African American newspaper, exalted Taulbert’s talent for storytelling and describes him as “a person who bears his soul, both as a thinker and as an emotional being — a feeling, often deeply exposed while on the road.”

Clifton Taulbert (The Invitation) introduces Kathryn Stockett (The Help) at a March 27 presentation fro the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers

While presenting his book in Oklahoma, Taulbert also had the opportunity to introduce Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, at a March 27 presentation for the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers (pictured). Taulbert and Stockett were both born in Mississippi. Reviews have said that Taulbert’s The Invitation “[continues] the conversation inspired by The Help.”

Read the Tulsa World review, watch Writing Out Loud, and listen to the StudioTulsa interview at the links.

The Invitation by Clifton Taulbert is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.